Cape Town, South Africa In his series “Hatfield Street,” Moses März observes the South African post-apartheid society. Through his eyes, we travel down this street and are able to get a first glimpse of what might become visible through it. Hatfield Street, second part.
Deluxe Coffee House — 9 AM
The quietness that has spread throughout the post-rush hour streets is suddenly interrupted by police sirens. A police convoy with three containers holding prisoners is heading across the intersection towards the regional court. The hands of the captives are visible between the trailers’ stanchions. A few hours later, the convoy noisily makes its way back. The rustling trees are then about the only sound you can hear, giving meaning to the term ‘leafy suburb’, often used to refer to our district. All those who do not have to be at work at 8 am are now the last ones to make their way to the offices.
They walk or drive past people lying on the pavement and in the entrances of houses, covered by plastic sheeting, cardboard boxes or fleece blankets. Here and there, you can catch a glimpse of the heel of a shoe or a hand sticking out underneath the blankets. At first sight, it is impossible to determine whether they are dead or alive. Either way, the reality is that no one walking by cares very much.
Located in a garage in one of the side streets is the Deluxe Coffee House. The café is particularly popular amongst a certain part of the white South-African society at the moment. It is in the same league as other coffee shops with such high-flying names as Truth Coffee Cult, Vida e Café, The Power and the Glory and Artisan Coffee.
The café is situated in the heart of an area whose name has been changed to The Fringe during a recent marketing campaign. The Fringe is the almost completely gentrified eastern district of the city central. Within a few years, dozens of coffee shops have sprung up in the facilities that previously housed car repair shops and clothing factories.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, this part of town used to be called District Six and stood for a living contradiction to the apartheid ideology through the diversity of its inhabitants – until it was completely destroyed by bulldozers. As in the rest of the country, the former inhabitants of this part of town were first divided into coloured, black and Indian and then ‘forcedly removed’ to separate townships. An empty patch of grass behind The Fringe remains as a silent reminder of the ghosts of District Six.
Here, in Deluxe Coffee House, nobody is bothered by any of this. Racing bikes are displayed on one of the bare brick walls. The atmosphere is deliberately relaxed, as if the rest of the city has not already been caught up in their working day routine for several hours. It is as if there was no work left to be done for the customers of Deluxe.
Here, white South-Africans and Europeans are amongst themselves. Here, they feel at home. Here, the coffee is freshly roasted. The Deluxe employees are all equipped with a barista world-champion attitude. They wear black t-shirts that proudly display the coffee shop’s name in white writing. They are tattooed, pierced and constant coffee consumption has made their eyes deeply bloodshot. Lenny Kravitz’s “Are you gonna go my way?!“ is playing from the stereo system.
Sitting comfortably behind their Apple laptops, it is easy to overlook the fact that people here are actually on their way to their jobs. Yet no one is in a hurry. The creative industry has established itself in the offices of this street. Amazon just moved into the neighbourhood a few years ago. It has leased a 20-story office building for South-African and German call centre employees, dealing with the complaint calls of German, American and British Amazon clients.
Newcomers are often surprised – perhaps subconsciously relieved – that there are no black South-Africans among the café’s customers. The café might as well be located in Berlin-Kreuzberg. A sticker attached to the front door reading ‘Ons praat Afrikaans’ states that Afrikaans may be spoken here. It is an overt indication that there is a space for Apartheid nostalgia in Cape Town. During the Apartheid regime, Afrikaans was a compulsory language in school and used as a main instrument of coercion, forcing the black majority into the culture of the white minority. By putting up stickers promoting Afrikaans the violence of those days is being transformed into harmlessness and minority rhetoric.
As European visitors are often driven by the wish to experience African authenticity, such observations often cause uncomfortable feelings.
But the desire for Africa is not only noticeable among the tourists. It penetrates The Fringe in a most peculiar manner. Where young Europeans are usually sporting star-shaped tattoos, here, the outline of the African continent is often spotted on bare shoulder blades, ankles and upper arms. It swings as gold-plated pendants from pale necks and boasts in bold neon colours on designer t-shirts or as stickers on the backs of four-wheel-drives.
What does this mean in a city that tries so hard to be like New York, L.A. or Miami?
As Paul Theroux declares in his essay “Tarzan is an Expatriate“, the behaviour of whites in Africa is best explained in the desire to be special, to be the only one. According to Theroux, a certain rejection of the industrialized world and a subconscious urge to choose the body over the mind is also playing into this. How quickly this fervent wish unites globetrotters and white South-Africans, is easy to observe in the Deluxe Coffee House.
In the midst of Africa, far from Europe and at the same time so close to it, everyone is especially special.
The Shot of the Noon Gun — 12 PM
A cannon shot marks the middle of the day. Windows of cars and apartments vibrate from the detonation. Other than that, the street is quiet at this time of day. Only a few cars are parked at the side of the road. They belong to people buying their lunches at the petrol station.
The cannon, called Noon Gun, stands proudly at the top of the grass-covered Signal Hill. Viewed from our street, it draws the line of our horizon. Stretching all the way into a hill mostly made up out of stone, Lions Head, it finally merges into Table Mountain. In earlier times, the cannon was used to signal the arrival of ships to the town, hence the name of the hill.
The cannon is a rather unassuming tourist attraction and part of a small military compound. There is also a barrack which houses the cannon supervisor, his family and their dog. A blue plaque next to the cannon points to the fact that the mid-day cannon shot is the oldest tradition of this city. It dates back to 1806.
Two districts, Sea Point and Green Point, are located behind Signal Hill, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. On some days, the fresh ocean breeze even reaches the midst of the city centre.
The simple fact that this cannon, once part of the former Cape Colony, has been deemed fit to determine the daily rhythm of the city, gives an impression of how the thought of Cape Town as a colony has been internalized.
On the traffic island in front of the petrol station stands a woman selling the street magazine The Big Issue. She is wearing a red windbreaker. The name of the magazine is printed on it in big white letters. Holding one copy in her hand, she stands there all day. Even when it is raining. Sometimes, towards evening, she will sit down by the side of the road. I have rarely witnessed drivers buying a copy.
The main argument of the publication is that 50 per cent of the sale price stays with the seller. The content of the magazine is not particularly attractive. Unlike the Berlin MOTZ, the Big Issue is not written by homeless people but primarily by interns from the USA or Europe, who are spending a semester at the city’s elite university, gathering first experiences in the journalistic field. The content of the Big Issue is therefore focused mainly on nature-oriented themes such as hiking and surfing, as well as on Nelson Mandela.
The magazine’s sub-title is “Make a Difference – Create Jobs, Change Lives“. On the front of the seller’s jacket, just underneath the title, there is a large blank square where she is given the space to write down what her own ‘biggest issue’ is. I assume that this is to suggest some kind of personal agency. The woman standing on the traffic island has written: “Support my family“. When she turns, we can see that the print on the back of her jacket reads “I am an Entrepreneur“. A little beneath that, on her hip, the Fair Trade logo has been sewn onto the material.
To be continued... (Part III)